On the Nature of Emperors and Empires

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Re: On the Nature of Emperors and Empires

Postby Zuk » Mon Jul 01, 2019 10:13 pm

The Hippodrome, Irae

Everyone present sat silently while he read. Down below the emperor's box, the charioteers were rounding a corner, and the people were screaming joyously. The scroll rolled itself up, revealing the sour face of the Crown Prince Kritodemos "Monopthalmus", his left eye covered by a black patch that hardly concealed the scar tissue around it. He scratched his thick black beard and said to his servant, "Thank you, Doulos. You've done well."

The servant bowed and silently slinked away. The prince looked over the waiting faces of his gathered allies - what was left of them, anyway. Most of those who had acted as direct intermediaries to the Strategoi had been picked off in the Emperor's purges, but it seemed that none had revealed the true source of their actions. What was left was an unhealthy smattering of Geronts and Logothetes, lower magistrates and officers in the Stratos. It wasn't nearly enough for an effective coup, not anymore, and the Strategoi were now out of reach. "The army is on the move," he said, "He has won over the Strategoi. Our window has closed."

He let the wave of anger wash over the room for a moment. They had their own reasons for being here. Some were Pantheonists, still bitter over the Basiloktonia. Others were stalwart Antarteran unionists. Kritodemos had spoken to each of their concerns, promising to welcome the spread of new Pantheonist temples, and to pursue reconciliation with the Republic. All agreed, however - there must be an emperor, and he must be a Mandromenid. For now, that left them with Kritodemos to rally around - he had made sure of that. There were no brothers left, and he had found ways to minimize his powerful Jasonid cousins, who had produced several Strategoi in recent generations.

"He's done it again," grunted old Logothete Hymandos of Skaea, slamming his fist against the arm of his chair, "Damn the gods who stand beside him!"

Hymandos had been a member of Anaksarxos I's bureaucracy, had negotiated directly with Dumani magistrates as they moved toward a goal of Antarteran integration. He assailed them all regularly with tales of the feel of those days, the "energy" as he described it. Like so many others, he'd felt a sense of hopelessness since, which had given way to despair as coup attempt after coup attempt was subverted, sabotaged or outright defeated by Anaksarxos II and his Mandators. Dozens of assassination attempts had failed, from poisonings to shootings, to having dedicated men suicide-charge him with knives - none of it had ever worked. If not the Spathion, always immediately present, then the Mandators would step in, and on one occasion, the emperor himself had merely, by chance, chosen not to eat something that had been poisoned and served to him. Most of these attempts had not been directly coordinated by any single group of people - rather, a faction of people loyal to the first Anaksarxos acted out through various forms of decentralized resistance.

That faction of people was rapidly shrinking these days. Hymandos was more a representative of them than an outlier - a sickly, fat old man who was long past his prime, set aside or lost in some glory-less bureaucratic position. Kritodemos had found it easy to rally what was left of them behind the promise of fulfilling the dream they'd never let go. Now, he was left with the shell of that, and a smattering of younger men he'd gathered to his cause while serving in the Stratos. Lower officers, not a Strategos among them, but some armored units and a number of gunship pilots. They had discussed on more than one occasion simply assaulting the Kastroudeos head-on, but in the end ruled it out as even more audacious and insulting than the Basiloktonia had been.

"We need not damn any gods," said Kritodemos, "at least not yet. Some yet remain by our sides, too, or we'd all be dead as well. I think it best we disperse, however, for the good of the cause. We are without opportunities. Perhaps its best we wait until my father has died, and I may ascend naturally."

"He doesn't DESERVE it!" hissed one of the others, old Geront Eroneos. "He doesn't..."

There were nods of agreement from some of the other older members of their group. Kritodemos felt for them, in a way, but this was his father they were talking about nonetheless. He frowned, "Be that as it may, we are in no position to act. We should bide our time, remain silent, and reconvene when necessary. As it stands, we are outmatched. In the end, the result will be the same. I will undo my father's actions. Take solace in that, if you do not live to see the day."

Once Kritodemos convened their meeting, they left in short order and scattered to the four winds. Kritodemos, for his part, sat alone in the emperor's box, watching the chariots round the corners below. What a meager following I've mustered, he thought, If only I had some way of countering the Mandators...

He felt nervous even thinking it, and impulsively checked his surroundings. I'm being foolish, he thought, Even if I can't see them, of course they're watching me. He grimaced, his hand tightening into a fist. He knew there had to be a way - not because he agreed with the ramblings of sad old men, or because he held some deep malice in his heart toward his father, but because he knew he was the better man. He had merely yet to prove it. He took a deep breath. There is one way, he reminded himself. He had contacts, good, honorable Antarteran men all, in the Republic. Barbatio.

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Re: On the Nature of Emperors and Empires

Postby Dumanum » Tue Jul 02, 2019 12:01 am

There was a tremendous amount of paperwork that needed to be done to ready the legion for war. Just that morning, Marcus Aradus had signed off (or rather, his adjutant had) on a request for 2,000 new uniforms. Apparently spiders had gotten into one of the supply warehouses- a tremendous number of spiders, by the sounds of it. One of the younger men had thought it expedient to try to “smoke them out”, as he’d called it. One thing lead to another, and now they were down 2,000 uniforms.

More paperwork filed in. More paperwork was signed. Calls were made.

This situation was about as ideal as he could have hoped, under the circumstances. Of the some twenty-three thousand men nominally assigned to his command, roughly a quarter had been pulled out and shipped to other units. Unfortunately for him, it included many of his younger, better troops. The ones who’d received their military diplomas within the past two to three years. Those men had gotten orders to report to their old legions rather than the Thirty-Second.

Still, all was not lost: the Thirty-Second still had a good core of experienced officers and NCOs. Some of them were a bit long in the teeth, but Marcus Aradus knew and trusted them all.

“You will be receiving reinforcements before this kicks off, don’t worry,” the fellow from Manpower had told him over the phone. He’d called as soon as he read the orders, praying that there’d been a mistake. He knew there wasn’t: the first twenty-two legions always had priority for reserve call-ups. Any below-strength units were to be replenished with the most recent Citizens before they were sent off to the front.

And so, at the moment, he had a skeleton legion. He did not lack in leadership, but he did lack in warm bodies: men to drive his trucks, to crew his tanks, to drive the machines that dug ditches and, when those inevitably broke down, dig the ditches themselves.

“A cohort graduated at Campus Caetronii just yesterday afternoon. The first of them should be arriving later today.”


He did need fresh bodies, but he didn’t need children. They’d be at war within a month’s time, if the rumors held true.

His leaders would now be saddled with the extra task of training 17- and 18-year old graduates of Secunda Disciplina for a real war, and that was on top of getting out-of-practice and out-of-shape reservists back up to speed and all their machines running smoothly. As it stood, those kids would know how to take orders, shoot straight, maintain his weapon and wargear, run swiftly, march steadily, and some rudimentary small unit tactics. But this was the Faithful Thirty-Second: they were an armored legion. Another few months at a technical school is what they really needed, and even then it’d take still more time to really get them up to speed once they got to their unit.

Still, he needed fresh bodies, and this is what he had to work with.

What the man on the phone didn’t really make clear was that the Thirty-Second would be getting the first pick of recruits.

“Aradus,” a voice called from beside him.

“Sulinus,“ he responded without turning.

They were standing out on the parade ground- that was grass at least, and the bugs were even leaving them alone for the moment -baking in the hundred degree Ubaidian heat. The legates- those were the commanders of the legions -stood off to the side while the tribunes took charge of the draft. It was a very old system- some said thousands of years old. The new recruits would be arrayed in formation, and they’d be inspected by the tribunes. The recruits would have on hand their records from Campus Caetronii, the only information anyone had to judge them on other than their bearing. The tribune of the first cohort would then select one of the recruits, and he then belonged to the first cohort. The tribune of the second cohort would then get a turn to select a recruit, and so on and so forth until they cycled to the end. The tribune of the second cohort would then get the next pick, and the tribune of the first the last, until every man had been chosen.

In this case, the Thirty-Fifth Subartan Legion under Sulinus was also taking part in the draft- 812 recruits to split between two understrength legions. Fresh-faced boys, not even issued a weapon or gear yet. It was summer time- the sleeves of their desert fatigues were crisply rolled the regulation four fingers.

“Ooh! Watch that one!” Sulinus nudged him. He quickly saw what he was getting at.

Fourth rank, second file. The kid looked strongly built enough- some kind of Quardacian by the looks of him- but, sure enough -there he went, tipping ever so slightly forward until he hit the ground with a thud.

“Medic!” came the inevitable shout from outside the ranks, and within moments he was being hauled to his feet and dragged to the aid station to get the silver bullet.

“You can have that one,” chuckled Aradus.

The rest of the recruits did not break ranks; they stood immobile, like statues. They were fresh out of Secunda Disciplina, and that meant they were in peak physical condition and wired to obey. That was at least one positive.

“I’m told they’re shunting all the navy and air force contracts in Prima over to our side,” Sulinus said, more seriously.

“Handless Oswin, what a clusterfuck. This is definitely for real, then.”

“Certainly looks like it. I hear they expanded the recruitment age as well- thirty-two year-olds I think they’re at now.”

“Oh, I can imagine the lines they’re giving the kids in school now- well, probably the same ones they gave us I suppose, no?”

“Service Guarantees Citizenship.”

“That’s the one. But now they get the promise of a real war. The real war.”

It was almost 3 o’clock, and the sun was in no hurry to go anywhere. The formation was rapidly thinning- it’d taken less than an hour to get down to the last fifty.

“How do they plan on processing all those new recruits?” Aradus wondered aloud.

“Didn’t you hear? They just stood up two new castrae last week. They both have Prima and Secunda on site, but it’s going to be abbreviated. Once they’re all up and running, they’ll be able to pump out another ten thousand or so every two months.”

Great. Can’t wait to throw boys with two months of training into a warzone.

That bit went unsaid.

Aradus didn’t need to watch anymore, his tribunes had it all well in hand. He bade Sulinus farewell for the day; he’d likely see him the next day for another draft. He had more paperwork to do.

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Re: On the Nature of Emperors and Empires

Postby Dumanum » Tue Jul 02, 2019 3:50 am

“Titus, my good friend!” the corpulent figure in the garish robes bellowed at him from atop his throne, staggering excitedly to his feet and nearly knocking his vizier off his feet. His long curly beard swayed before him, even has his extravagant turban nearly tumbled from his head.

He flung his goblet of wine in the general direction of a servant, who scrambled to pick it up.

“None of this swill for my friend here, bring out the good stuff for us!” he clapped his hands twice, to accentuate the command. Faster than Titus could blink, a pair of lithe, provocatively-dressed serving girls appeared before him. He didn’t quite understand why it required two of them to bring him a goblet of wine- an Estrian red of a fairly nice vintage. King Sarkon always knew his audience- it was how he’d survived this long.

Taking the goblet from the girls, he waved them off- his wife sufficed for those purposes.

“While you know how I delight in surprises, my friend, I must say I am especially surprised at your so sudden arrival here in my humble abode,” he got a little too close as he tossed an arm around the Dumani; his breath reeked of wine and whatever he’d been smoking.

“Yes, Your Majesty- I had thought you and I might talk in private. I did not want word of our meeting preceding me lest any…unwanted guests invite themselves.”

“Ahhhhh, intrigue! Most excellent!”

He turned to the gathered court. There were dozens of slightly-less garishly dressed figures- locals, of various sorts, and perhaps a few foreigners that had gone native -and some more conservatively dressed foreigners. And then there were the guards: Sarkon’s private mercenary army. He didn’t trust Crataeans for that purpose, so he employed Wallaseans, and maybe a few Fantasians. They were all a serious-looking bunch: Marbo had files on all of them. Ex-Force 316, DOPE, DZU, and OMSDON, mostly. They were all exceptionally well-paid, and surprisingly loyal. Sarkon may have appeared outwardly ridiculous to the casual observer, but he knew what he was doing.

The whole court had been quietly glaring toward Titus Junius Marbo, but he merely gazed on with detached indifference.

The smile disappeared from the king’s face.

“Out, all of you! I must speak with my friend the senator.”

There was murmuring as they filed out, encouraged by the guards.

“Come with me.”

They proceeded behind the dais upon which the throne was situated- it was twenty steps high, and Marbo marveled that Sarkon could ascend and descend it with such ease, given his enormous girth. Behind the throne was a balcony that looked out over the city of Elam.

They were at the very top of the Tower, Sarkon’s personal fief from which he ruled over all the Elamite peoples- even if only in name. Though his city had been partitioned between the warring Antarterans over a century prior (quite literally- the legal border of the Sukarian Empire and Dumani Republic ran straight down the middle of the city), he still exercised a strong degree of influence over not only those Elamites living within its limits, but those inhabiting the surrounding provinces. He was a religious figure of sorts- descended from the goddess Damgalnuna and divinely ordained to rule by all the gods. This was something the Elamites took very seriously, even if they took little much else seriously.

And so, neither the Dumani nor the Sukarians really cared to bother with him. It was simply easier this way. And he, for his part, like his father and his father before him, paid lip service to both. He was “vassal” to both the Emperor and Senate, but in practice ruled on his own whim. He did not stir up trouble, and kept those who followed him from stirring up trouble, and the Antarterans were content to let things lie as they were.

The sun was setting over the city. It sprawled out in all directions: simple mud brick structures that had likely been there as long as the Tower. Still, the city was not impoverished, for it sat on the crossroads of four countries. Far down below, men drove expensive sports cars and SUVs, and Elam International Airport was crowded with private jets. Sarkon, like his father and grandfather, had resisted all attempts at developing the city beyond this. “I do not wish to tempt the gods with my hubris,” he’d told Marbo when asked.

“So, Titus, what did you wish to speak of?”


“Let me guess, it is something to do with this war you have brewing with your cousins?”

Marbo hated when he did that.

“Indeed, Your Majesty. It is highly likely that we will see open war with the Sukarians within the next several months. I come here as a friend to bring warning that this war will likely affect your city,”

Sarkon paced- more like wobbled -and nodded his head, reading between the lines, “Yes, it is good that you come to me like this. You come to me first, you know? I appreciate that.”

“Still, I do not like to, how you say- rock the boat. I remember the last time your people came through. I was only a child, but I remember it was quite the mess you made!” he said as if playfully admonishing a child, wagging his finger. “And your cousins, they were not so pleased with my father letting your men by without a fight. They took his eye for that.”

Marbo’s eyes narrowed. He’d not smiled this whole time, but he somehow seemed more serious. That caused Sarkon to stop pacing.

“You see, Your Majesty, that is what I wished to make clear to you. We only came through, the last time, on our way in and out of Ubaidia. You see, when we come through this time…we think we may be staying in Ubaidia.”

Sarkon sighed, his grin not quite disappearing.

“I see. Well, hopefully it isn’t because you are dead!” he laughed at his own joke.

“I think that is unlikely.”

“Yes I suppose that is true. After all, and correct me if I am wrong, but my spies tell me the Sukarians seem to have lost interest in this part of their empire.”

“You are not wrong.”

“Yes, and that is most unfortunate, because a great many people are being killed in Ubaidia, Titus. My people.”

“We are aware, and had thought it may interest you to know the Senate does not take kindly to this butchery of the Elamite people. They are, after all, friends and brothers to the Dumani People.”

“So you say,” Sarkon’s grin had lost all humor. “And so I say to you…I shall think on your words, old friend.”

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Re: On the Nature of Emperors and Empires

Postby Zuk » Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:20 am

Kastrou Kamferia, Kamferia Exarchate

For nearly a week, men had been driving in from the provincial countryside. Some came quickly, alone, in pick-up trucks usually, fully loaded with supplies; guns, ammunition, their uniforms, ration stockpiles. Those men had been waiting for the call eagerly, had been itching to get back into the Stratos since fulfilling their dues. Others took longer, only arriving at the Kastrou after spending some time with their families, or arranging their affairs. Some brought with them debt-slaves, usually youth debt inheritors, who they donated to the Evzones to be dispatched toward Kastrou Ubaidia.

Arrivals were organized into Kentarchies and began drilling and conditioning immediately. It was quickly clear who had kept up with their training and who had not. Those who hadn't were beaten severely by their peers as punishment. Mechanics rolled old Kataphrakts out of warehouses and worked round the clock to make them ready for war. Endless lines of Hippeis trucks and armored fighting vehicles were rolled out and inspected, while armies of Logothetes from the Imperial Intelligence Logothon and magistrates working for the Domestikos Estratos took tallies and requisition orders. All this took place in the area surrounding a fortress built in the 1700s, overlooking them like a dark monolith. In one of its high towers the Megas Disasteros, Tagtheridox Arteros, had just arrived to address a council of Strategoi, who each led a Tourma within the Second Theme.

Arteros was tall - one might judge him seven feet at a glance - and hugely muscular. He had bronze skin, a square jaw, and dark eyes, with which he surveyed those before him. He was adorned in a traditional officer's uniform - a crested bronze helm, bronze lamellar-scales and kilt over a silken purple tunic, with a crimson chlamys which fell over it all. "Honored Strategoi," he said, his voice like a rumble, "I thank you for receiving me so well. I do enjoy the sight of an army in motion."

"Yes, Megas Disasteros," said the Strategos of Delta Thorax, a Perioikoi-born Sukarian named Argentarios Oieraphanes, "Soon the empire's enemies will be cremated screaming with liquid fire and stamped into the earth by the marching of Antarteran boots."

"Let the Gods will it so," agreed Arteros. "In short order, I will charge Delta Thorax with the command of the Second Theme. Along with Epsilon Thorax, you will be supported by the Grand Spears in taking regional command of the Evzones," he nodded toward noble-born Strategoi Philandros of Agali and Esis of Nika respectively.

"It will be my life's honor," said Argentarios, standing tall and proud, "I will meet the Dhoumoi in the field and drive them back with the right and true dispensation of our subject forces against them. With rockets and fire and bullets and swords we will drive them back to the edges of the world and bid them to swear fealty to their lord, the Emperor of All Antarterans. Let them test all their men and machines against our wall of men and missiles."

"Well-spoken," said Arteros wearily, "truly... uh... Where was I? Yes. You're to take command of the Evzones, and help keep the Republicans occupied in the southern reaches of the empire. Useless territories, the lot of them, and if truth be told the emperor would like to see some collateral damage if at all possible. You will be given everything you need, however, I think it best you not overstretch your forces. Its unlikely you will outright win a protracted offensive. You'll be best off pulling the Republicans into ill-advised offensives themselves. Your forces will, after all, be easily under-estimated."

"What of the other reservists? Will they be joining us?" asked Philandros, scratching his beard.

"They will not. For now, Zeta Thorax and the other two Mechanikoi will be rallying to join the rest of the Stratos as it moves into position. With luck, they'll be at full strength by the time they arrive in Kyrenia."

"So, you're hanging these provinces out to dry?" asked Philandros, looking perturbed. "Meaning no offense, sire, but it seems the emperor fully expects us to lose."

"You're not understanding your role," said Arteros, giving Philandros a look that froze him solid, "your goal is not to win. For you and your men, the size of your victory will be directly proportionate to the resources you force the Republicans to invest against you. Do you remember the Ubaidia War, generals? I wouldn't suppose you do. I certainly do not. Who do you think won the Ubaidia War?"

Philandros pursed his lips. "Conventional wisdom would suggest Dumanum gained a tactical victory. It defeated the Sergelts, and greatly disrupted the social cohesion of the Exarchate."

"Aye, conventional wisdom," said Arteros. "Conventional wisdom is wrong, in this case. The Dumani won nothing. They expelled resources unnecessarily on a land filled with savages, and will do so again. They defeated the Sergelt invasion of Ubaidia for us, and allowed the Stratos to engage in the much more meaningful conflict with the Danteri. Now do you see, kind Strategos?"

Philandros only nodded silently.

"Thus will be your guiding light," said Arteros to them all, "Be the mud that stops the wheel, the light that blinds the eye. Leave the vast tracts of Vekhia littered with smoldering wreckage and burnt corpses, and do the same in Elamia, and Ubaidia, and Cadimirria if you must. And if the Gods deliver us victory, let the Republic know the disruption and instability that we have overcome time and again, so that we may see them truly tested, and know that they are Antarterans, not starving Motaps or slack-jawed Ulans. They should only pray Arete blesses them with such opportunities as we have had. O Sukaros Nika!"

"O Sukaros Nika!"

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Re: On the Nature of Emperors and Empires

Postby Zuk » Fri Jul 12, 2019 1:59 am

Oiregei had never known anything but the farm, his entire life. They told him he was born owing a debt to the Antarterans who fed and clothed him, and kept him close to his family, and that only a life of labor now could hope to earn a life of freedom for his descendents one day. Like his father, and his grandfather before him, Oiregei had inherited this debt from his ancestor Bargul, who they said fell into ill fortune after taking out a loan to pay for a prospecting venture in Danteri that came to nothing. As imperial law dictates, the Antarterans who made the loan could collect on the debt through forced labor, and set their own interest rates when dealing with someone of the Helot class.

His father had been beaten into submission years before he was born, and kept his head down. He had impressed on Oiregei the need to do the same, to bend the knee, to bow the head, and call the Antarterans master. "They'll take your eyes," he always said, "there's nothing worse than that - to see a man waste away in despair and darkness with no reprieve, laid low by the simple stair."

That hadn't been enough for Oiregei. He could see that the land continued beyond the farm of their Antarteran lord, Marsentios. He'd seen a debtor leave with Marsentios once before, the last time the couriers came with orders to report at the Kastrou, and resolved that this time it would be him who left. His father and mother begged him to stay away from Marsentios or his family, as approaching could mean death, but in the end he'd been taken along gladly. "The wife will want a few less mouths to feed while I'm away," he remembered the master telling him, while they drove to the Kastrou. That was a few days ago - now, Oiregei had seen more of the world than he dared dream of since then.

He wasn't sure where he was going, or where Marsentios was, or if he would ever see his family again, but none of it mattered when the ziggurats came into view, passing below the elevated, fortified rail line in the dried out marshlands of Cadimiria and Ubaidia. He saw people walking freely here and there below, tunics on their backs, only halted by guards at periodic checkpoints. What freedom, he thought, if only he could be among these prosperous peoples who the Antarterans treated with respect.

Sure, he was scared, but once he and the others were shoved off the train at the Kastrou station, there was no more time for fear, or to even think. Suddenly there were Antarterans screaming at them in Sukarian and Ostic, saying, "take this duffle bag," and, "run with the others to the barrack." He tried to ask what was a barrack, but an Antarteran smacked him with a lamellar-mail glove, breaking skin on his cheek. After that he didn't ask any questions, and ran barefoot across the rocky earth, slaves and Ubaidians and Elams and Ohns all around him bleeding sweat that drenched their faces in the merciless sun.


Long lines of Ubaidian men attempted jumping jacks, poorly, as Antarteran officers screamed at them to go faster. They were all poorly timed and mismatched, and few could complete the motion even after being shown repeatedly. Many were in poor shape, and lacked discipline, and were beaten thoroughly for it and even lashed in cases where individuals were too fat.

Raw recruits like Oiregei were given old Galilos rifles and drilled on how to use and clean them. Shooting a gun, at least, came easily to even the slowest peasants, even people like Oiregei. Even if one had never held a gun themselves, they'd surely seen an Evzone or a Shesh patrolling their neighborhood. Perhaps they'd looked down the barrel themselves, on occasion. The same could not be said for driving, and certainly not vehicle maintainence. Most of the Evzones' mechanics and engineers were poor Antarteran Perikoikoi, or otherwise Maranese or Danteri. This sometimes created communication issues between them and the Ubaidian or Elamic operators, who themselves created unnecessary issues by not really understanding how an engine worked, or not really caring about working one too hard.

Other vehicles were welded together to make impromptu mobile artillery, or a cheap tank. Many trucks were found to be in poor condition, with many flat tires which had to be pulled off and replaced. The scrap rubber was thrown into long trenches, ready to be set afire to create a thick, acrid black smokescreen to conceal movements or suffocate an advance. Others were wrapped around captured deserters, set afire, and rolled down hills as a form of execution.

Many Ubaidians simply didn't report for duty when called upon, and were either replaced by a Shesh supplied by a local Abu, or were actively hunted down and killed by the Salamudi. All told, some units failed to contact or locate as much as a quarter of their manpower, requiring spot replacements who were usually slaves or impressed into service from a local village.

Meanwhile, border villages were subjected to forced evactuations, the buildings flattened by tanks or, if they were mudbrick, methodically bulldozed. As with elsewhere, thousands of displaced refugees were driven south toward the border, their former homes laid over with mines, barbed wire, and tank traps. Huge stockpiles of munitions and supplies were trucked in or hauled downriver from Ohn, while the rails remained mostly in use shifting units north and south.

War was in the air, all around. One need only breathe deeply.

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Re: On the Nature of Emperors and Empires

Postby Zuk » Sun Jul 14, 2019 5:36 pm

The Strait of Arterus, Huranese Coast

The helicopter cleared a layer of clouds, and below them the Horn of Crataea came into view, the very northern tip of the continent, straddling the Strait of Arterus. The clear-blue Axackal shone beneath them, reflecting the midday Sun brilliantly, reminding all why the Sukarians called this the "Thalassa Kalos" or, "Beautiful Sea". Here, it was said that the hero Arteros pushed apart the Pillars of the Earth during Globalization, allowing the Ingenic Ocean to join with the Axackal Sea as a favor to the Sea God Thalassos, who wished to bed the Axackal Sea Nymphs. As reward, the wild continent to the north bore his name, granting him a form of immortality.

Why, exactly, his father had brought him here was unclear to Kritodemos. There was nothing but a small town, some farmland, a few military bases, some scenic mountains. Huran had some lovely beaches, it was true, if only it were safer. "Glorious, isn't it?" asked the Emperor, "The Province of Ouraeia. Not yet, I know, but just you wait... they say I failed here, you know, just like my father."

"Neither of you failed," said Kritodemos gruffly, "Huran is ours. Its a matter of formalities."

"Another Exarchate at best," said the Emperor, watching the landscape draw nearer below. Kritodemos couldn't be sure what he was thinking. "What good is another Exarchate? That system has shown its age. See what good Exarchates do us. The Dumani do not have Exarchates."

The town at the very tip of the continent was coming into clearer view, but something didn't look right. There was smoke, and for miles around, dump trucks, pickup trucks, cranes, earth-movers, bulldozers. Then there were the lines of people, being force-marched down a coastal road at gunpoint by Huranese mercenaries. "I don't understand," said Kritodemos, "I haven't heard of anything like this."

"You wouldn't," said the Emperor with a knowing eye that made the crown prince shiver, "The Shah answers to me, after all."

It became clear that most of the town had been bulldozed, and that new construction of buildings and infrastructure was underway all around its carcass. A patch of packed dirt and earth came into view below them, just in front of what looked like the beginning of some grand temple, as marble pillars were being raised, and grass laid out near a new street. Theirs and two tailing helicopters landed there, and the emperor and crown prince stepped out into the Huranese heat. The Emperor's Spathion joined them from the other helicopters, suddenly flanking them at either side.

"What do you think?" asked the Emperor, gesturing toward the rising edifice before them.

A... fine temple, father," he said, unsure what to make of it.

"It isn't a temple," he said flatly, "Its a palace."

"A palace?"

The emperor scratched his white beard, his crimson himation flowing in a light breeze, "Yes. I've been thinking - how might I secure our branch of the family an enduring legacy to match that of Pelagius, or Heraclius? So that the throne might never escape our grasp - YOUR grasp, your son's grasp... Sure, military glory. Of course that remains on the table - I intend it to be just one facet of my greatness. I've come up with something even better... a new capitol for the whole Antarteran World, straddling the edge of the civilized world in this strategic location granting us control of the Strait... I will build a grand navy to protect it, I will conquer the south of Arterus, I will defeat the Regeners... I will right all the wrongs of history, from this, my city... Anaksarxople."

Kritodemos felt frozen, a bead of cold sweat forming on his forehead. He felt his mouth was dry, so he licked his lips and said, "A new capitol, sire... father, would it be appropriate to abandon Irae?"

"Who said abandon? I won't abandon it. It will remain the capitol of Sukaria, merely subordinate to the capitol of this new, restored Antarteran Imperium. Urbs Dumanus, too, will become subordinate to this Golden City."

"I see... I - submit humbly to your great ambitions," he said with the courteous bow that was expected of him, "and hope merely that I meet your expectations..." There was no response. The Emperor merely watched him silently a moment, as he lifted cautiously from his bow.

That was when he first realized something was truly wrong.

The emperor gestured toward a pair of his Spathioi, who returned to one of the tailing helicopters and retrieved a man, bound at the wrists with a bag over his head. They brought him before Kritodemos, kicked him to his knees, and unveiled his face. It was old Hymandos of Skaea, one of the magistrates who often met with Kritodemos and his followers. His mouth was gagged, his old face beaten purple, bloody and swollen. Suddenly, the Crown Prince was looking for an escape route, but he was met at all sides by Spathion guards.

"Quit being a fool," said the emperor, "I can't just kill you... you've done your best to make sure of that, by killing you brothers. That's fair. I'd have done the same."

They cut the cloth that gagged old Hymandos and he gasped for air, coughing and wheezing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he kept saying repeatedly.

"You didn't think you could truly conspire against me in secret did you? Of course not," the Emperor said, as if disappointed in his heir. "This one, he made a big show of his hatred for me, his determination to see me gone, and what did it get him? Only torment for days without ceasing. He understands now that it is I who has the power to give and to take, to make, to unmake, and to remake as I see fit. He sees now that he is nothing, doesn't he?"

"Yes, lord," Hymandos moaned, "yes, lord, I understand, I swear..."

"He sees too late, and so he will not see at all. Take his eyes and his tongue," said the Emperor.

"No, no!" cried Hymandos, but the Spathion pinned him and borishly cut his eyes from his sockets as he kicked and fought, then did the same with his tongue. When it was done, they threw him to the ground bleeding, and he grasped at his face, making only a strange groaning sound from his throat.

"I made you," said his father, approaching Kritodemos with a look of satisfaction on his face, "Don't be so naive as to think I don't have methods with which to unmake you. I see myself in you - the cunning, the will to do what must be done - but know that I am the master. I give you one chance to embrace this legacy of marble I build for you, to kneel before me as your emperor, and to rise, and embrace me as my son. I offer this to you only once - or perhaps I'll take your sons as my heirs instead."

After just a moment to ponder, Kritodemos fell to his knee and said, "Your wish is my command, Autokrator."

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